Over the centuries since the birth of Christ, most cultures that celebrate Christmas have embraced a mythical figure who delivers gifts to good children. Before the Reformation, Saint Nikolaus day was celebrated on December 6th as Catholics revered him as the secret giver of gifts. Martin Luther wished to discourage the reverence of saints and needed a Christmas tradition for the new Protestant church. He moved the gift giving day to December 24th and named the Christkind, or Christ Child, as the secret benefactor. Christmas markets, once known as St. Nikolaus markets became Christkindl Markets, even in Catholic regions. These markets were often held in front of churches during the Christmas season.
Artists' depictions of the Christkind gradually changed from the baby Jesus to a sprite like angelic child who was still called the Christ Child. The city of Nuremberg, Germany produced tinsel angels and in 1933, a young girl in an angel costume opened the city’s Christmas Market for the first time. After the Second World War, Nuremberg’s tinsel angels became known as the Nuremberg Christkind. A young teenaged girl is still chosen to open the Christkindlmarkt in that city each year and Kitchener has followed the same tradition. It is also interesting to note that Kris Kindle and Kris Kringle are corruptions of the original name of the German gift-bringer Christkindl.
Our city is hosting its 12th annual Christkindl Market this weekend. Many similar markets are found in Europe. The market is held indoors and outdoors and vendors sell European style handcrafts and foods. On Thursday evening, people met in our downtown park for a carol sing with the Grand Philharmonic Choir. A candle-lit procession, led by Mary, Joseph and their donkey, marched from the park to the City Hall where where trumpets and church bells welcomed their arrival. The young Christkind, accompanied by two little angels, gave a reading from a balcony and the Christmas tree in the square was lighted.
It is bitterly cold this weekend with strong north winds and lots of fresh snow. The outdoor nativity with Mary, Joseph and two live donkeys is visited by the many people who brave the weather and come to the market. I enjoy this event and find it a nice contrast to the consumerism of the malls at this time of year. The emphasis on music, performances, crafts, good food, winter fun and community provides a more meaningful celebration of the season. I will post some more pictures from the market this month.
In much of the world Santa Claus has become a very commercialized secret gift giver who is unlikely to reward anyone with a lump of coal. Historical gift givers were more stern and judgmental of children's behaviour. In Latin America and other countries, the Three Kings bring gifts on January 6th.
Do your families celebrate other gift-giving traditions?